By Stephen J. Kotz
Twenty years ago, the simple topic of whether North Haven should allow deer hunting of any kind within the village limits would have brought a capacity crowd of often angry people with conflicting opinions to Village Hall.
On Tuesday, when the village board announced it would hire the wildlife management firm, White Buffalo Inc., to help cull the local deer herd and allow its hunters to use shotguns, where until now it has only allowed bow hunting, not a voice was raised in objection.
That’s a far cry from East Hampton, where protestors mobilized to halt the town and village from moving forward with culling program championed by the Long Island Farm Bureau that would have relied on sharpshooters hired from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Service.
“We felt it was necessary to do something extraordinary,” said Mayor Jeff Sander in an interview before Tuesday’s meeting of the village’s efforts to rein in a deer population that has devastated gardens, crumpled car fenders, and led to an increase in tick-borne diseases.
The mayor stressed that the hunt, which he added could begin within a month, is only one part of a “multi-pronged” effort proposed by a village deer management committee to reduce the deer population and control disease. The village will continue to explore contraception alternatives as well weigh the benefits of installing 4-Poster units—feeding stations that force the deer to rub up against rollers that leave a coating of the insecticide permethrin on the animals’ coats, thus poisoning ticks in the process.
Mr. Sander said the immediate goal is to reduce the current North Haven deer herd, which he estimated at between 200 and 250 animals, to about 100. By contrast, when village leaders waged a contentious battle in the mid-1990s to allow bow hunting in the village, an estimated 450 to 500 deer were spilling out of the woods, denuding gardens and causing white knuckle driving on Ferry Road.
“Seasonal, recreational hunting has done fairly well,” the mayor said, “but it has fallen off.”
The mayor estimated that hiring White Buffalo would cost the village approximately $15,000. An exact figure as well as the final language of the contract is yet to be worked out, he said
The company’s hunters would be required to follow New York State Department of Conservation rules for shotgun hunting and would not be allowed to net the animals or have any other special privileges.
Tuesday’s meeting drew an audience of one. Sue Edwards told the board she supported the plan to bring in additional hunters, but she wanted to know what steps the village would take to notify residents that there might be shotgun-wielding hunters stalking white-tailed deer on the property next door.
Mayor Sander responded that the village would be sure to notify residents, as well as bow hunters, within a reasonable vicinity of where any shooting will be taking place.
Board members said they were concerned that deer would not be able to find enough food if the area continues to be visited by frequent snowfalls has it has been so far this winter.
Trustee Jamie Davis said that the deer are becoming ever more resourceful at gaining access to gardens that are now so often hidden behind fences and gates. He said he had heard of the animals using their noses to nudge open gates to gain access to the delectable treats within.
Edwards added that her neighbor had reported that deer, once discouraged by burlap-covered shrubs, have now learned to loosen the coverings so they can feed on the bottom of the plants.
Mayor Sander said the village is still exploring its options with 4-Posters as well as contraception and sterilization. Both solutions are expensive, with 4-Posters costing about $5,000 each and the village still awaiting word as to whether it will qualify for state funding to help offset the cost.
“You’ve got to stock them with feed and you need a licensed person to apply the permethrin because it can’t be handled by just anyone,” he said.
Dr. Anthony DeNicola, the president of White Buffalo, Inc. had recommended that the village complement hunting with a sterilization program, but Mr. Sander said that is also an expensive proposition and one that requires more study.
“Some animal lovers, myself included, hate to see any animal die,” Mr. Sander said, but he said he believed the vast majority of people living in the village realized hunting was a necessary component to controlling the deer population. If it weren’t, more people than the 18 to 20 who did so would have turned out when the village held a forum on the matter last year, he said.